If you go to the Vatican website (www.vatican.va), you will see that there is a tab for the "curia." It will direct you to congregations, committees, councils, tribunals, and a plethora of other offices. These offices make up the curia, forming the governing body of the Church. The Curia functions as an advisory body to the pope and bishops. While the pope does make a lot of the decisions that keep the Church going, an army of bureaucrats and staffers keep the wheels turning on this great world-wide organization. There is a document called Pastor Bonus that governs these workings. It is an Apostolic Constitution that defines which offices are in charge of certain Church matters and how decisions are made. It also provides a means for administrative appeals and judicial processes when they are needed. Pastor Bonus describes how each of these offices works with one another, how they interact, and who gives them a direction.
Currently, the Vatican Secretary of State has quite a bit of power over decision making in the Vatican. Not only does he maintain relationships with foreign nations, but he also functions as the intermediary between the Pope and the Curia. As you can imagine, this position has quite a bit of influence over the daily workings of the Church. Some have been critical of this influence and others have even called for this position to be dramatically changed.
Another important and powerful entity in the Vatican is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). This congregation is made up of some of the best theologians in the Church and typically is responsible for any question having to do with matters of the faith. Over the last several decades, a lot of other matters have been entrusted to the CDF because of the level of expertise that its members possess. Now, many issues that used to be handled by other congregations have found their way over to the CDF. This is another oft-heard criticism, that the CDF does too much that could be handled by other entities.
The last office I will describe is the "supreme court" of the Church. The Roman Rota is the highest court in the Church and handles a great number of judicial cases from around the world. These are primarily marriage and annulment cases that have been sent off for a final appeal to the court in Rome. This court has a great deal of power and influence in the world, but has one great flaw- it can take years to hear from them because of the massive backlog of cases. Because the court hears appeals from all over the world, each judge is responsible for thousands of cases. Many bishops and the Pope himself have asked for a way for this backlog to be cleared.
The Council of Cardinals I mentioned in the first paragraph has been looking at many of these questions and concerns. In the coming years we may see a radical departure from the old ways of doing business with a whole new order established in the Vatican. We could also see a confirmation of things as they are, with very few changes. I think the final result will likely be somewhere in the middle. Our Holy Father seems to be the kind of guy who wants things to run efficiently and well. The Cardinals on his council are bringing a fresh set of eyes to some of these issues and I am curious to see what some of their recommendations are. Please keep these men in your prayers as they tackle some of these very tough considerations!